TechnoEnvironments - Social power relations in TechnoEnvironments
Thu 09:00-10:30 Room 0.19
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For a labour turn in social media studies
Wolfram Schaffar University of Passau
The role of social media for political mobilisation is notoriously difficult to conceptualise. Examples from Southeast Asia, where social media plays a pivotal role in political processes, are a clear example of such difficulties. While Facebook is a forum for challenging the monarchy in Thailand – as discussed in the panel at the example of the Facebook group Royalists Marketplace – in Myanmar, Facebook is associated with online mobs and the popular backing of the ethnic cleansing in Rakhine – dubbed as Facebook genocide.
In my comment I argue that the fuzziness is a symptom of a blind spot in our concepts and analytical tools. Drawing on Pye (2017) and Ong & Cabañes (2018), I will show that labour – or more specifically the material reproduction of users and producers of social media, the business model of social media platforms, the business model of the social media-based pop-culture industry, and the political economy platform economy need to be brought in to social media studies.
This comment is a conceptual sketch which aims at discussing the foundation for a research programme on digitalisation, social media and political mobilisation in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar as a laboratory for digital authoritarianism - the fusion of coercive means and state propaganda in social media
Nwet Kay Khine Rosa Luxemburg Foundation
This paper aims to examine the emergent regime of digital authoritarianism in Myanmar. Drawing on the concept of regime – as sets of protocols and norms embedded either in institutions or institutionalized practices – the paper analyzes the rules, regulations and practices of internet use adopted by the military regime and its predecessor governments. Based on empirical data, it assesses digital strategies of the State Administrative Council, the coup government which attempts to manufacture the consent with the help of censorship, surveillance technology and network propaganda. A growing body of evidence suggests that the military has been controlling the digital resistance by using both visible and invisible interference. Consolidating its power by drafting new cyber law, silencing the critics with imprisonment with communication laws, imposing internet outage, enforcing the forceful rise of the data price for limiting citizen’s access to the media, and giving orders to the internet service provider for surveillance are some of the techniques visible to the observers. In additional to that, state control of the internet also comes in the form of a more implicit censorship and employing digital armies in popular media platform such as Telegram channels and Facebook based media outlet. This paper argues that the pattern of online interference of the military rule in Myanmar carries significant resemblance to its offline military operational method called “People’s war strategy” that was introduced in 1960s and still predominantly in use until now in order to recruit civilians as auxiliary military force to attack fellow civilians.
Politics of Digitalization and Resistance: Democratic Movements in Thailand and Myanmar
Naruemon Thabchumpon Chulalongkorn University
The transition to the digitalization has dramatically transformed the political landscape. Technology has enabled the expansion of traditional communication from street politics spending in physical confrontation to virtual spaces online and related activities in and through social media. The outbreak of COVID-19, in particular, served as a catalyst for an even faster digital transformation of activities. The young generation make use of social media to voice their satisfaction against the role of the state.
However, the rapid transformation of digital technology raises the questions of how civil society and social movements make use of such rapid changes and what forms of resistant activities there are in the changing political landscape. This paper aims to study the impact of technological disruption through the digital activities and the future of democratic struggle in Thailand and Myanmar in four areas: new political landscape, resistant culture and democratic activities of digital movements.
Throughout the paper, the study found that the expansion of digital landscape in the two countries has shifted democratic struggle patterns and forms of resistances. Online resistant activities and digital culture has emerged among activists who grew up with computers to counter mainstream hegemony and authorities. The contestation between politics of recognition and politics of power from conservative and progressive factors in Thailand and Myanmar are clearly seen in and through social media. Due to the incapability of public politics and digital divides, platforms of democratic struggles of new social movements still remains to be discussed.
The birth of the new Facebook group “Royalists Marketplace”: a new strategy to counter authoritarianism?
Praphakorn Lippert University of Passau
Despite the laws banning criticism of the monarchy, online critical comments towards the Thai monarchy is not new. The emergence of the Facebook group “Royalists Marketplace” in April 2020, however, has opened a very new arena for sharing critical opinions concerning institution in the internet. In an experimental setting providing an open space for serious discussions on the monarchy, the Royalists Marketplace has become popular, especially among like-minded youth. By using memes and TikTok videos in combination with other pop culture features, a new humorous and sarcastic style of political communication was created. The Royalists Marketplace has also played an influential part in supporting the student protests calling for monarchy reform since July 2020.
However, the Royalists Marketplace was criticized for being a platform for cultivating an authoritarian culture. In this arena, socially offensive speech, hate speech and violations of privacy have been used in a similar way as on the right-wing platforms. In my paper, I will discuss the emergence and development of the Royalists Marketplace. I will address the question whether this style of debate can count as a reproduction of authoritarian relations, or whether we can consider this approach as a form of the weapon of the oppressed people against the authoritarian state of Thailand.
The emergence of new technical environments through digitalisation and the transformation of societies has been analysed from different standpoints. We can distinguish three prototypical positions, which define a field, in which specific analyses can be situated. Most common is arguably the view which departs from the technical specifications, for example the programmes and functions of social media applications, the role of algorithms. The materialist view focuses on the concrete infrastructure and on the appliances, which are needed as hardware. A third view can be characterised as social constructivist and takes processes of appropriation of technical appliances as primary dynamics – or even further, would question the primacy of the material basis of technical developments.
Social power relations are reproduced, augmented and challenged in new technical environments. Here, we observe the transformation of power relations affecting the political sphere, the organisation of labour and class divisions. The appropriation of nature as well as cultural and religious processes may be analysed.
Southeast Asia is the world region, where digitalisation processes are most advanced and where we find the highest penetration of social media. The area constitutes an important field for research in two respects: As a laboratory, which shows general trends and trajectories and as a dynamic region, which exhibits area specific characteristics, some of which seem to be augmented and develop into distinct features. We are looking for contributions which investigate the connection between technically transformed environments and power relations. Contributions which compare different societies or countries in the region are welcome:
• How are social relations challenged or maintained by techno-environments?
• How are these power relations mediated by class or the reproduction of labor?
• How can these techno-environments be conceptualized in an intersectional manner?